February 25, 2005


Fresh Air Photos

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The Beauty of:
Native Grasslands - modeling diversity - Part II

On Fire
Once a year the tallgrass prairie of east-central Kansas goes up in flames.

Each spring an area of about 1000 square miles of native prairie straddling Highway 77, extending south from I-70 between I-135 and I-35 is set ablaze by the land's owners as part of an annual ritual of rebirthing. This is a practice handed down from generations of Native Americans to generations of transplanted Europeans to the current 3rd or 4th generation ranchers in the region.

This region is the largest stand of native prairie left in the U.S. It stands as a reminder that diversity works and it stands as an inspiration to agronomists and researchers seeking alternatives to the monocultures that dominate world food grain production.

Related information...
Photography - On Fire by Larry Schwarm a marvelous book - featured below
News story ---- An engaging description of the Kansas Flint Hills tallgrass region
News story ---- Kansas tallgrass prairie preserve bequeathed to the Nature Conservancy

Pawnee National Grassland
A less well known region of native prairie is the Pawnee National Grassland which lies along highway 14 in NE Colorado between Sterling and Greeley. This region is comprised of short to middle height grass.

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On Fire by Larry Schwarm

Lyndhurst Books - 2003
Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University

"The North American tallgrass prairie once covered the eastern Great Plains, stretching from Texas to Canada and covering nearly 152 million acres. not even 1 percent of the original tallgrass prairie remains. My photographs are made on the largest remaining stand of tallgrass prairie, the Flint Hills in east-central Kansas.

"Fire is essential to the prairie ecosystem. Without it, the prairie would have grown into scrub forest. Before human habitation, unbroken expanses of grasses as tall as eight-feet high would catch on fire and burn for hundreds of miles. Native Americans set fires to entice bison to the new grass that replaced the burned. European settlers adapted the practice and burned to encourage new growth for their cattle as well as kill invasive trees and weeds. What started as a natural phenomenon became an annual event controlled by people...

"The work in this book represents twelve years of photographing the controlled burning that occurs every spring in the Flint Hills...

"I grew up on a farm in south-central Kansas. To describe it as subtle is something of an overstatement. There were not tress, no hills, and what water there was formed a muddy pond, more often dry than full. matter what I am looking at, my point of reference is the minimalist landscape of Kansas where I first observed the world."

Photographs from the book.
Web link --
Amazon ---- On Fire at

Other stuff...

Where Buffalo Still Roam
By Suzanne Winckler, New York Times: October 24, 2004
Here is a link to a NYT Travel section overview of native grasslands in the U.S Great Plains. It is thorough and includes good links.
Web link --- Where Buffalo Still Roam

The Future of Food - the film
Directed, Produced and Written by Deborah Koons Garcia
Running time 88 minutes, 2004 Lily Films

This is an absolutely remarkable film!
The first annual BIFF (Boulder International Film Festival) 2/18/05-2/20/05 in Boulder, CO, included this film. It addresses issues arising from GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) in the commercial food chain. It is a story of the ultimate monoculturization of food grains and dramatically highlights the need to support diversity in local food economies. The film is available at the web site for $20. I encourage you to purchase a copy, it could the best educational $20 you will spend this year.

Web site ---- The Future of Food
Links page - Interesting links

UPCOMING - some future topics for this Newsletter

  • Grasslands - historical perspectives & photographs - modeling diversity Part III
  • Percy Schmeister - one farmer's struggle with the legal power of Monsanto and GMO monoculture - modeling diversity Part IV
  • Rural Source - a U.S. initiative promoting "outsourcing" jobs to rural communities rather than out of the country.
  • Wind Power - current events
  • The Island Institute - supporting education and economics in ME island communities

George Beggs 2/2005 - Feedback is welcome at